Monday Medical: Acupuncture: an effective treatment for PTSD |

Monday Medical: Acupuncture: an effective treatment for PTSD

Post-traumatic stress disorder can be an immense challenge for anyone experiencing it. But studies show relief may come from an unexpected source: acupuncture.

Yampa Valley Medical Center’s first free acupuncture clinic for veterans will give all veterans — whether they have experienced PTSD or not — an opportunity to try out the treatment. Below are some basics on acupuncture and how it has been shown to help specifically with PTSD.

Benefits of acupuncture

Acupuncture has long been heralded as a treatment for various health issues. It can provide relief for almost any condition, including chronic low back pain, menopausal symptoms, insomnia, depression, digestive orders and allergies, said Kelley McDaneld, a licensed acupuncturist with Integrated Health at YVMC.

The practice has been used for thousands of years, and its efficacy is shown over and over in historical and empirical evidence.

Though modern science hasn’t pinpointed exactly why acupuncture helps, it does show the body responds. With each needle inserted, there’s a vascular response that increases blood flow into the area, as well as a neural response that results in the brain releasing neurotransmitters, hormones or other chemicals.

The response can be specific to each individual.

“Some respond very well, others not as much,” McDaneld said. “People are very unique.” But in many cases, acupuncture results in a positive change.

What to expect

In Chinese style acupuncture, which McDaneld practices, needles are inserted in several places on the body. A patient may not feel the needle going through the skin, but should feel a deeper sensation once it’s in; McDaneld describes it as a heaviness or ache. There are 12 main acupuncture channels in the body, and a patient may also feel an electric ‘zing’ down a channel as a needle is inserted.

That sensation goes away after about 30 seconds, but the needles are left in for 20 to 40 minutes.

Some people notice an immediate improvement; for others, especially those with more chronic conditions, it can take a series of treatments to get results. That might mean being treated once or twice a week for six to eight visits.

Acupuncture and PTSD

Post-traumatic stress disorder can result after experiencing a traumatic event, such as death, the threat of death or injury. Symptoms of PTSD can be debilitating, including flashbacks, nightmares and severe anxiety. Veterans experience a higher percentage of PTSD than the general public.

Sufferers of PTSD can be virtually “frozen in fear,” McDaneld said. Acupuncture can help, as it inhibits the fight-or-flight response, allowing people move forward. In one study, acupuncture was shown to be as effective as Cognitive Behavior Therapy in treating PTSD in veterans.

“It’s nice to have acupuncture as a treatment modality for PTSD, because it’s a nonverbal treatment,” McDaneld said. “It doesn’t require the person to revisit the experience.”

Veterans who attend YVMC’s free clinic do not have to be suffering from PTSD; the event is more of a chance to experience the benefits of acupuncture. At the clinic, people will be treated with ear acupuncture and some body acupuncture.

“Ear acupuncture can be extremely powerful,” McDaneld said. “They’ll definitely feel more relaxed.”

One of McDaneld’s very first patients was her grandfather, a World War II veteran. He was in his late 80s when she started giving him acupuncture regularly. He’s now 95, and still looks forward to the treatment.

“Every veteran that I’ve ever worked with has responded very well to acupuncture,” McDaneld said.

Susan Cunningham writes for Yampa Valley Medical Center. She can be reached at

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